Like most at-home parents, I struggle with trying to provide educational opportunities for my kids. Either we talk about things that are really advanced (which is good for stretching the mind, but leads to more complex questions) or it seems overly simplistic and boring. Nobody wants to do A is for apple, B is for bat for very long. I was inspired by a local library educator to use themes on a monthly basis, and then follow my own sense of adventure from there. For October we went with pumpkins, turkey stories for Thanksgiving, and snow for January.
Every holiday does add a bit of sparkle to a child’s eye, though, no matter how manufactured it may be (Valentine’s day, I’m talking to you!) So I try and incorporate a bit of learning (specifically reading, discussing a bit of history, coloring pages, and if we can, crafts) from each holiday into our ‘faux’mschooling program. If you can add a twist of magic, fairy dust, or trickery, well then you definitely can get a young child’s attention a lot more easily. There are literally dozens of books out there about every holiday. Every cartoon character from Clifford to Arthur has a story for Christmas (or two), and kids love reading them. However, staying with tried and true kid favorites is boring for the parents.
For future holidays, and every day, I wanted then to search out basic kid-friendly books on a theme. For St. Patrick’s day I chose leprechauns (they are magical, tricky, and delicious… wait, strike that last one!), you could also search for other keywords and come up with a good list (luck, lucky, pot of gold, shamrocks, rainbows, to name a few.) So I set out with my laptop, library webpage, and a good sense of ‘trudging through’ to find everything I thought my 4 year old could read or listen to and then narrowed the list down further to our Top Leprechaun Stories just for you!
So how did I do it? I searched for the keywords in our library’s online request system, more specifically the juvenile request system. If you want, you can then sort by date or material type (to search for or exclude DVD’s or music). Ours also sorts by date or reverse date to get the newest books to the top of the list. You’ll end up with a fairly substantial list of titles depending on your keywords. Some will be repeats, some will obviously be too difficult, and others you may have to look for an age range or a simple page count noted on the record will be helpful. Unpaginated typically means fewer pages and therefore easier books. If all else fails and you can’t tell, you can always use the search feature on your web browser to bring up a picture of the book and information about it. This ‘hunt and peck’ method might take a bit longer, but if you can pull from a variety of sources like we can, you can fine tune your list just how you want it before putting in the request! You could make a list of 3 books for each month that you explore in-depth, for example, or get a list of 20 that you can read over the 2 week check-out period, really allowing your child to explore on his/her own. You can do this for every season, holiday, sport, weather related event, and on and on. Don’t be afraid of non-fiction, either. Some of the best ‘finds’ we’ve made are non-fiction books–pictures of animals are fantastic and really inspire awe, like going to the zoo, in a book!
If you’re having trouble deciding which books to get, then focus on what your child enjoys. My 4 year old would just as soon read a book about mud trucks as fairies and princesses. When in doubt, order more than you think your child can read, and simply renew them if you run out of time, or re-order. No one ever said you only had to check a book out once! Don’t forget that seasonal books are most popular as the advertising begins, we started ordering St. Patrick’s day books at the end of February and nearly every one of them is already requested somewhere else! Start thinking spring and Easter books now!
So I know you’re thinking: what if the book is a dud? We’ve come across a few. Some that are a bit odd – one mentioned ‘Googling’ a leprechaun, that book didn’t make our cut in the link above. Just remember that if you’re using a local library you are both keeping people in work and supporting the local economy (in the US libraries are funded by tax dollars). You might make the mistake of judging a book by it’s (well-worn) cover as well. Realize, though, that if a book is still in circulation long enough to be well-worn then it is truly a well loved book, and likely a really good one. One local library ditches books after 3 years of non-use. Another one we liked but didn’t include still had a ‘bookmobile’ stamp on it from the 1960’s. Yeah baby! True to form, it was a cute story. Still others focused on being poor or on not having enough money–these were harder books not included due to age range and general… sadness? I want my little one to focus on FUN and LEARNING, not on money! If the book is a dud for any of the above reasons, don’t worry about it. There are tons more out there waiting, and I think all of us want our kids to read as much as they can, so a dud just means another trip to the library!
Other tips: Check with your local librarian, find lists of favorite kids authors or books, recall your favorite books from childhood and research and find them, and just have a sense of adventure. Once you find a book you love, explore the author’s website or online store for additional works. You’ll be able to tell that the books are written by the same person, and young children thrive on repetition, even if they can’t explain that yet, you’ll get a variety of options instead of Good Night Moon (over and over and over)!